After stopping at home for a few days after South Dakota, we packed everything back up to go explore Yellowstone with our Balderrama family.
This time our home base is in Island Park, Idaho, which we made after two shorter travel days, staying in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The drive took us through Jackson during lunch and took a bit longer than expected since you’re driving through so many small towns. The 12 of us are staying at a beautiful cabin that goes three stories tall. We’re well stocked with good food and drink and have yet to eat out since we’ve arrived.
Island Park is about 30 minutes from the Yellowstone West Entrance, that takes you into Montana for all of 10 minutes before you’re back in Wyoming. The drive is really pleasant and we’ve been lucky enough to have encountered short lines when getting into the park.
I’ve never been to Yellowstone and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After spending two days here, I would equate our experience to “Wilderness Disneyland” – it’s an incredible place filled with a lot of pretty sights, but there are a lot of lines everywhere you go. While we haven’t encountered too many traffic jams (and those are typically caused by a wildlife sighting), every big attraction has people everywhere, and we’re finding ourselves navigating big crowds.
The other surprise was just how accessible everything is by car. Every big attraction has a parking lot with a short path that leads you right up to it. I was expecting more long treks and hikes to view some of these things. With two young kids, I am grateful just how accessible all of these features are, but at the same time it does make every attraction feel like a Disneyland ride, again with people everywhere.
The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and as someone who has been to Rocky Mountain National Park many times, I still am in awe at the marvels that are at Yellowstone. Grasping the size of the park has been a surprise, as I wasn’t prepared for as much driving as we’re doing. It’s a beautiful drive, but you are likely to spend the majority of your time in the car. Next to driving, we’ve spent the most significant amount of time at the bathroom lines. With four young kids, we’re always finding ourselves in the dozen-people-deep line of people waiting for the outhouses.
Over our two days at the park, we’ve experienced some great highlights.
Grand Prismatic Spring
This has been my favorite feature, by far. This (non-swim-able) hot spring is basically a boiling lake that runs off into the river. When the wind picks up, you can see (and feel) the hot steam blow off the water. At one point when we walked through it, my glasses were completely fogged up and there was no visibility.
There’s a big elevated walkway that you take as a one-way loop. It wasn’t until I was half-way through the loop when I realized the auto-focus was off on my lens, and I debated taking another quick solo loop with the focus working. I was so glad I did.
This famous landmark was at the top of our list when we set out for Yellowstone, but we heeded the advice of the ranger that told us to go later in the day. It was still incredibly crowded, but we lucked into great timing and arrived just minutes before it was set to go off. It’s amazing just how much water shoots out, and how little contrast there is between the water and the clouds.
The Falls of Yellowstone
We spent our second day venturing to the Upper and Lower Falls of Yellowstone, showing off the start of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as well. The falls were impressive and made for some incredible photos. We were looking forward to taking Uncle Tom’s Trail which would take you down 300 steps, but that was closed due to some hazardous conditions.
Artist Point made for some awesome views, but at that point our girls had enough and were pretty tired, shortening our visit.
There is lots of wildlife that can be seen. We have driven by many Bison herds, but haven’t taken many great shots of them just yet. We also did find an elk hanging out on an island in the middle of a river as well. Our goal over the next day is to get some more shots of wildlife.
With four young kids, we’ve tried to keep our agendas relatively open with lower expectations. This has maintained a lot of space for fun with the family.
We’ve got one more full day in Yellowstone before we head back. We’re again trying to temper expectations and make things a little less structured, in hopes that we’ll have another fun and memorable day.